Despite differences, India is one: Captain Laxmi Sehgal

Ninety-three-year old Captain Laxmi Sehgal led one of the first women contingents of the world. She was just a young doctor, barely out of college, when Subhash Chandra Bose picked her up to lead the Rani Jhansi Regiment of the famed Indian National Army. Having led the national freedom struggle from the front, Lakshmi saw the country shed the imperial chains. Now, an active medical practitioner in UP's Kanpur, this Captain shows no signs of relent. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Expressindia.com.

How far do you think has India come after sixty years of Independence?

Everything is not all right. Poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. Equal growth has been elusive throughout the society. We have not been able to control our population as yet, which was our foremost priority. The common man has not been able to reap benefits of our growing economy. Unemployment is still rampant in this country and we have not been able to educate each one of us. There is much work left to be done.

Healthcare has also become expensive and is increasingly growing out of the reach of the common man, which is a matter of grave concern. Adequate healthcare should be provided to the needy and more emphasis should be laid on the access to education.

Do you believe that in India, only political democracy is a success and not the social democracy?

Social democracy has not failed in this country, though it may have not reached the expected benchmark of success. Political democracy has given a new meaning to our independence. We have got the resources and manpower. But because of the widespread greed we have not been able to make the best use of them, to benefit all of us.

We can get rid of this greediness if we inculcate good values in our society. Parents must start educating their children in the right direction and wean their wards away from any type of greed. We should teach our coming generations that worldly positions are not the be all and end all of world.

What good has India seen through all these years?

Our biggest achievement is that we have kept up the democratic system and set up in our country. We are surrounded by countries, which have succumbed to one or the other kind of dictatorship. But we have survived, with our democratic values intact.

As a founder member of the All India Democratic Women's association, how do you see the development of women in the country?

It is sad to note that the age-old problem of dowry still persists. When I was in college, we would persuade men not to take dowry. We would picket outside such weddings where dowry would change hands. One cannot preach against dowry if one has been the part of this practice. Public involvement is required to get rid of this malaise, which still haunts us.

We have a woman President now. Don't you think it signifies the empowerment of the fairer sex in this country?

Electing a woman President has nothing to do with the empowerment of women. Women in this country are still not empowered and are still to get their rightful place. It makes me sad to see that the plight of women is still the same in the country. In one place we have the Woman President, on the other we have the prevalence of female foeticide.

How did you feel when Netaji asked you to lead the Rani Jhansi contingent?

I felt very happy when Netaji asked me to lead the Rani Jhansi contingent. It was a proud moment for me.

Have the goals of freedom fighters been achieved?

We could not achieve our goals. We were against partition. We took the partition as our defeat. Muslims in West Punjab who were also part of INA wanted to go to India. But Nehru asked them to go to Pakistan and be loyal to that country.

How does it feel that you were born and brought up in South India and then spent most of your life in North?

I have always felt myself just an Indian, live like an Indian and will die an Indian. My family never made me feel different from them, so I never realised even in my remote thoughts that I was born and brought up in South. For me it is nothing like North and South, it is just the India.

Where in your opinion did we go wrong in the past 60 years?

It is wrong to feel that all our problems are over. It is our big mistake that we did not involve the youth of the country in its progress. This is the very essential segment of the society, which has been neglected so far.

What do you think of the youth of the country? Are they capable of taking India to its rightful position?

Of course they can, why not. But it hurts to see the youth of the country frustrated, in the present times.

What is the difference between the leaders of yesteryear and of the present ones?

Well, the leaders of our times had the goal of achieving Independence before their eyes. We had just one vision, to get our country free. But the present day leaders lack any inspiration. They are always thinking about themselves and just look for their own.

How has the behaviour of people changed towards patriotism?

Globalisation has marginalised the sense of patriotism in Indians. Genuine patriotism is not found these days. Everybody is eager to leave for foreign lands in search of greener pastures, which is not good. We should strive to make our country big and then look to other countries. Running away from the country will do no good to anyone.

Which incident according to you is the black spot in the post-Independent India?

Casteism is a big challenge for us. I feel it is more dangerous than communalism.

What is the biggest achievement India can boast about, post independence?

Our biggest achievement, post independence, I feel is that despite all the differences, we are one. No doubts we have done big on scientific fronts too, like our atomic prowess, which attracted the attention of the whole world.

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